The most recognisable of all the Malvern Hills, British Camp is thought to have been the location of a hillfort dating from maybe 3,500 years ago in the Bronze Age. At a height of 338m above sea level, it offers a magnificent view of land all around and especially the primary pass through the hills at that time; Wynds Point.
The first hillfort was built on the British Camp summit. Then, at around 400 BC, there was a rapid expansion of population in Britain and the hillfort was extended to include the northern spur of British Camp and also Millennium Hill.
The site has undergone a number of surveys and investigations, the latest of which was conducted by English Heritage in 2000. This ground survey found evidence of the original hillfort and the subsequent enlargement. The ramparts, still so distinctive in the hill's silhouette, were probably dug using a tool like a pick made from an antler. The earlier hillfort had two entrances, to the north and south, but when it was enlarged, four gateways were created. One of these faces west, but the other three have the boundary skewed next to the gates so as to ensure the entrances face east, which is thought to be the preferred orientation for access.
The English Heritage survey also found evidence of numerous hut circles. These huts would probably have been wooden structures with thatched roofs. They did not have chimneys and so the smoke from the fires inside the huts would gather in the roof and keep away the insects from the thatch. The lack of a chimney also had the benefit of tarring the inside of the thatch and making it more fire resistant. About 29 hut circles were seen within the first hillfort and as many as 118 in the later, larger hillfort. Origionally, it was assumed that British Camp was used mainly a defensive feature but these findings would suggest quite a large settlement.
It is thought that before the arrival of the Romans, that the fort was occupied by a 4000 person strong tribe. After the Romans arrived, hill forts like British Camp would fall to the Romans advanced tactics.
British Camp has only been excavated once, in a minor way, by F G Hilton Price in 1879. He concentrated on the summit where he dug a number of pits and found a selection of items. These were re-examined by archaeologists in 2010 but they found the items dated back only to the medieval times, with the exception of part of a Roman jar dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century. Disappointingly, no archaeological evidence was found of a prehistoric hill fort.
As no further excavations have been undertaken in the British Camp area, we can only guess what the purpose of the forts and camps were. The area could have been occupied as a village all year round, or for part of the year or even just for certain ceremonies or gatherings.
In medieval times, an oval earthwork was built which circles the top of British Camp. This ringwork was probably built by the invading Normans between the late 11th century and before the end of the 12th century. It is thought that a building, maybe a castle, stood within this feature. The earth from this excavation was used to landscape the top of the hill and gives it today's distinctive flat-topped shape. Wooden castles were quite common sites at this time and may not have been documented.
The castle could have been used as a hunting lodge or lookout over the boundary marked by the Shire Ditch, as this was a highly disputed boundary. The castle could also have been a military outpost or just a very prominent symbol of Norman power.